Remembering Forgotten Tools: The Trusty Fog Tip Applicator

Fog Tip Applicator Fire Apparatus
Finding an appropriate location for the fog tip applicator can always be a challenge.One very good place is on the side of the body with easy release mouting hardware. That ensures it won’t get buried in a compartment.
L-shaped Fog Tip Applicator Fire Apparatus
Most fog tip applicators are “L-shaped” with 60 to 90 degree angles on the ends. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Fog tip applicator Fire Apparatus
Fog tip applicators are effective on vehicle fires allowing firefighters to attack the blaze from above, through a pick axe hole in the hood, or from below by sliding the unit under the bumper or side fenders. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Fog Tip Applicator Accessibility
Too often, fog tip applicators are lost under equipment in compartments. giving it easy access ensures use.
Nozzle Heads Fire Apparatus
Nozzle heads on the applicance can flow 54 gpm greatly reducing water damage. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Fog Tip Applicator Fire Apparatus
Fog tip applicators are effective as an indirect attack tactic in an offensive strategy. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Fog Tip Applicator Rear Fire Apparatus
On the rear of the apparatus, above the tail board, is another good location for fog tip applicators. The units can range in size from 4 feet to 12 feet. Locating them at the rear of the apparatus makes them ready to grab when needed.

Since September 11, fire department missions have changed and the emphasis on terrorism response and homeland security has taken center stage.

With those added responsibilities comes the extra equipment to get the job done. However, we must not forget the essential equipment for firefighting, the stuff that gets buried at the bottom of the pile in overloaded apparatus.

One tool is the fog tip applicator. Most, if not all, fire departments carried them on their engines. Look around and see if you can find yours. Check in the bottom of the rear compartment. If it is not there, check the station’s basement or attic.

These nozzles have been around for years and are still in use on military and commercial marine vessels. Next time you are on a ship or a ferry, look inside the fire stations mounted to the vessel’s bulkheads. You will find the fog tip applicator is usually part of the arsenal, within easy reach.

As the building construction industry continues to be driven by economic competition and profit margins, builders are constantly looking for cheaper and faster ways to build.

Lightweight construction is now called flyweight construction. This construction can spell bad news for firefighters when those buildings are on fire.

That’s when having a fog tip applicator at the ready will prove extremely useful.

Fog stream application is an indirect attack tactic in an offensive strategy. Many fire departments are reconsidering this attack strategy as a safer way to attack lightweight construction fires.

When fire attacks web members and structural connectors of lightweight roof and floor trusses, failure and collapse times are unpredictable but can happen as early as 2 to 5 minutes. Taking into account the factors of alarm time, response times, and on-scene set up times, fire crews are making entry into these structures dangerously close to that catastrophic event. As a fire chief, the last place you want your firefighters standing is on or underneath a burning truss.

There’s a better way – gaining access to the seat of the fire using a fog tip applicator or a piercing nozzle in an indirect offensive attack. This method gives firefighters the greatest safety margin.

An attic fire may mean gaining access by working off an aerial ladder or an elevated platform. It can mean attacking the attic fire from the structure’s gabled end using ground ladders and a piercing nozzle inserted right through the siding.

It can also mean attacking the attic space by inserting a fog applicator through the ceiling, while working from a position that is not directly below the burning trusses.

Fog tip applicators are L-shaped pipes attached to the end of a hose line at the shut off of most modern nozzles. The angles of the “L” are 60 or 90 degrees and they range in size from 4- to 12- feet long.

At the pipe’s end is a round, foghead nozzle with a 54 gpm flow rate. The advantages are obvious, such as minimal, if any, water damage.

They provide the reach necessary to operate outside the immediate interior collapse zone. Don’t confuse this with an exterior collapse zone, which is usually established in defensive operations.

It gives overhead vertical reach into spaces that would otherwise require a firefighter to use a 6- to 12-foot attic ladder to gain hose line access.

It allows water application below grade and into tight spaces where a regular nozzle inserted at the hose end would prove ineffective due to the inability to aim or adjust the nozzle, as well as the inability to support the weight of the charged hose line.

The fog tip applicator permits firefighters to aim a fog pattern around a corner using a wall or a door as a heat shield. Most importantly, it can provide a blanket of water spray, protecting firefighters on attack lines or protecting those involved in Rapid Intervention Team operations without the force of the water from an automatic nozzle flowing in excess of 100 gpm at 100 psi.

Think about the protection it can offer a trapped firefighter while the Rapid Intervention Team works on extrication.

Though the handline fog pattern velocity is superior to the fog applicator, the firefighter using it does not have the same reach because of the nozzle weight. The fog nozzle cannot reach around a corner like the fog applicator.

Piercing nozzles can be operated much more aggressively, much like a forcible entry tool. They can be rammed or struck into any kind of building material except steel, and deliver a water fog pattern of 95 gpm at 100 psi into a concealed space.

Designed To Pierce

Designed to pierce and penetrate a structure with force, it has to be an in-line, straight shaft to continue the striking tool’s directional force.

Limited swinging clearance can present problems and render the tool ineffective. Though in certain situations it can be quite effective, it simply does not have the fog tip applicator’s versatility.

A common call firefighters respond to is a vehicle fire. Although they can be quite spectacular, they are easy to extinguish, except for the engine compartment. That is largely because getting access can be challenging. There is a trick of jamming the forked end of a Halligan through the grill and twisting the release cable. It’s a cool trick, and something to try during a drill, but I have yet to have it work when flames are blowing out the front end.

Inevitably, firefighters start whacking, chopping, prying and probably swearing, while the public looks on in disbelief.

Using a fog tip applicator can avoid all that public embarrassment and put the fire out faster.

Trick For Vehicle Fires

Here’s a vehicle fire trick that really works. Slam an axe pick deep through the hood and make a hole just big enough to insert the foghead. Open up the bail and watch the fire go out.

Another method is to slide the fog tip applicator along the ground underneath the engine compartment, with the nozzle pointed up. Lift up on the stem for better reach and open it up.

Both techniques are very effective because it is a sprinkler head flowing 54 gpm into an enclosed space. Then, you can take your time opening the hood for overhaul.

Though the benefits and preferences of direct attack versus indirect attack can be argued and debated, the science behind indirect attack cannot.

When water vaporizes, it expands in volume 1,700 times the volume of liquid water. It greatly absorbs heat, displaces oxygen, cools smoke, which should be considered a flammable gas, and lowers the temperature of heated fuels within the enclosed compartment.

Introducing water in an expanded vaporized state is the quickest way to prevent flashover. The sides of the fire triangle are simultaneously broken and the fire is extinguished. Whether you are talking about fire in an attic, a basement, a confined space or a concealed space, an indirect offensive attack is introducing a sprinkler system – sprinkler head – into the compartment and the effectiveness of sprinklers cannot be denied.

An Indirect Attack

There’s always the question of when to start an indirect attack. Think about a regular sprinkler system. It activates at specific temperatures, regardless of the ventilation and whether or not search and rescue operations may be in progress. Do we ever blame the sprinkler system for activating too soon?

Obviously, indirect attack is not for every situation. Certainly, if life safety concerns warrant a direct offensive attack, by all means do it.

If finding the seat of the fire is relatively easy, a direct offensive attack is certainly a sound tactic.

There are times however, when an indirect attack should be considered before offensive strategies are abandoned, such as delayed entry because of forcible entry issues, when the seat of the fire is difficult to find and hard to access, or when a direct offensive attack will place firefighters in a precarious situation or in untenable conditions.

The indirect offensive attack is not the first choice for most firefighters. From day one of academy, firefighters are taught to “get in there and put that fire out.”

Advances in personal protective bunking gear have made the task easier, but it’s important to keep everybody safe, regardless. We don’t conduct rookie live fire training in lightweight construction. For that kind of training, we typically use noncombustible concrete fortresses.

Wooden structures, acquired for training, must be prepped with layers of sheetrock to prevent the uncontrolled spread of fire during the exercise. To fight fires safer, firefighters must be trained to fight fires smarter.

Firefighters must think, unlike those who switch to automatic pilot awaiting orders from whomever ends up in charge.

In an indirect attack, the key to quick and effective extinguishing is keeping the enclosed space closed. It is critical that truck company officers buy into this tactic because they are the ones who evaluate the need to “open the roof” for vertical ventilation.

I recall a house fire I had that was one block from the station. We were first in and the second-in engine went to the hydrant. We had a quick knockdown but the fire had extended into the attic.

The truck captain on this alarm had been waiting for an opportunity to test this theory, so instead of opening the roof, he called for a roof ladder, an axe, and a hose line with a fog tip applicator.

The firefighter cut a small hole into the roof the size of a salad plate, inserted the foghead tip and quickly extinguished the fire with very minimal damage to the roof and the attic.

Easily Accessible

Mounting this kind of attack requires the tools to be readily available. The old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Our most important tools must be visible and easily accessible.

As a captain, I made sure mounting brackets were installed on my apparatus that accommodated my fog tip applicator.

Since both nozzles are thin and low profile, there is usually some open space where they can hang inside the compartment.

There are other exterior areas of the apparatus, like just below the ground ladder or below the hard suction hoses that may easily accept fog tip applicator mounting brackets.

It is my belief that there will be a return to indirect offensive. It will be driven by changes in building construction, building materials, and the make up of household fuel loads, particularly in the use of plastics.

Value Opinions

As departments retrofit and purchase new fire apparatus, the opinions of the firefighters who procure the tools and equipment should be solicited during the design process. More importantly, those opinions should be valued, and whenever possible heeded.

Manufacturers will bend over backwards accommodating all your requests, especially in determining where equipment can be mounted. These are relatively easy fixes that can have huge affects on fighting fires safely and effectively.

Editor’s Note: Raul A. Angulo is a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department and Captain of Engine Company 18. He is on the advisory board for Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) and on the board of directors for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He writes for numerous fire service publications and is an instructor on fire service leadership, company officer development and fireground strategy and tactics. He teaches throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

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